If a cus­tomer were to vis­it your web­site, would you want them to com­ment on your site struc­ture?  For most sites, the answer to that ques­tion should be “no.” If they are think­ing con­scious­ly about site struc­ture, chances are they are con­fused by it. Very rarely do users get excit­ed about how well a site is orga­nized (unless they’re in our field). For that rea­son, many sites use sim­i­lar hier­ar­chi­cal struc­tures; web users are accus­tomed to cer­tain web con­ven­tions, and when they come across some­thing new, putting in the effort to learn a new sys­tem may be too much to ask. You don’t want your users to have to think about where the infor­ma­tion they seek lives. That is why under­stand­ing tra­di­tion­al nav­i­ga­tion con­ven­tions and con­struct­ing an intu­itive site archi­tec­ture should be an easy deci­sion for your those in charge of your web­site.

Site StructureDon’t make your users over think nav­i­ga­tion.

Since a web­site should ide­al­ly be dynam­ic and will fre­quent­ly be updat­ed with new infor­ma­tion and con­tent (if you’re not updat­ing your web­site, that’s a whole oth­er issue), it will be valu­able to reassess your site struc­ture fre­quent­ly. Ask: is my cur­rent site struc­ture or sec­tion struc­ture get­ting my users to con­vert? Are rel­e­vant paths and work­flows made appar­ent to users? Are users find­ing the infor­ma­tion that they seek? And the answers to these ques­tions can’t just be thought up – there are use­ful quan­ti­ta­tive and qual­i­ta­tive research meth­ods avail­able to help deter­mine whether your site is per­form­ing at top speed.

These research meth­ods and tools can help deter­mine how to struc­ture the site. If you have an exist­ing site, what does your web ana­lyt­ics pro­gram tell you about the most vis­it­ed pages? Are there site sec­tions that users are not nav­i­gat­ing towards that are cru­cial for influ­enc­ing con­ver­sion? Maybe that con­tent belongs on anoth­er page or in anoth­er site sec­tion. What are the top key­words that bring users to your site? Do those queries match the con­tent you pro­vide? Qual­i­ta­tive infor­ma­tion gleaned from tools like site sur­veys (4Q and KISSin­sights are great sur­vey tools) and forums can be very use­ful in deter­min­ing what dis­crep­an­cies may exist between site goals and user goals. There are also sev­er­al user-test­ing util­i­ties (usertesting.com and feedbackarmy.com both offer rea­son­ably priced user feed­back tools) that can pro­vide great insight into the on-site user expe­ri­ence. Com­pare your site goals to your users’ site goals, and deter­mine how you can bet­ter get those goals to match.

In our expe­ri­ence, a mix­ture of ways that users can get to infor­ma­tion is best suit­ed for web usabil­i­ty. A com­bi­na­tion of clear hier­ar­chy and active link­ing is typ­i­cal­ly a suc­cess­ful mod­el. With a clear hier­ar­chy, users are able to nav­i­gate a site with lit­tle effort. Clear orga­ni­za­tion is ampli­fied by com­mu­ni­cat­ing where users are with­in the hier­ar­chy, using a device such as bread­crumbs. Also, in order to help move users to your most impor­tant con­tent, use links and calls to action with­in page con­tent.

The com­pa­ny web­site is one of the most impor­tant venues for brand­ing. And as users gain more online expe­ri­ence and become more web savvy, they often expect web­sites to fol­low cer­tain struc­tur­al con­ven­tions. Not fol­low­ing web design best prac­tices for the right rea­sons can make you stand out – not fol­low­ing for the wrong rea­sons (i.e. lack of resources put towards site) may detract from the trust­wor­thi­ness of your brand and your cus­tomers will head for the back but­ton.  Make sure your site struc­ture is a “no brain­er;” don’t make users over think it.